The back two rooms in my home were added long after the rest of the house was built. Directly off the kitchen is a room that was likely meant to be a utility room, but which we use as a dining/laundry room. Though it was a bit rough when we moved in, it’s delightful now. Off that room is another that was surely intended as an office (or Rock Room, as was the case with Josh Ney, from whom we bought the place). It, too, was a tad dingy when we moved in, but I fixed it up a few years ago, and it is a fine room today in nearly every respect, but it was lacking a certain something: a closet. Without a closet, a space cannot be called a bedroom, and Miriam really did deserve to have a better place to hang her clothes. So, on my spring break I set out to build her a closet.
Building in a finished room is a much bigger challenge than building in a room with exposed studs and ceiling joists. For one thing, you cannot build a wall flat on the ground and tilt it up. The framing for my closet had to be installed piece by piece.
The first step in the process, of course, was determining how large the closet would be. That decision was mostly made for me, because of the placement of a door and window, and an electrical switch and socket. Unless I was willing to move those things, the closet was going to be about forty-eight inches wide, and thirty inches deep. (A closet can be made as wide as you like, but if you intend to hang clothes inside, don’t make it less than twenty-seven inches deep.)
Once I had decided on the dimensions, I had to cut some 2x4s to make the top and bottom plates into which I could secure the vertical studs. Since the ceiling had drywall on it already, installation of the top plates was tricky. In one direction I could screw directly into the ceiling joists. In the other direction I used large toggle bolts. Those toggle bolts required a fairly large hole in the wood, and I used fender washers to ensure that the bolt didn’t just pull through the wood. To make sure the top plate and bottom plate were in perfect alignment (because the walls could not be plumb otherwise), I used a plumb bob, and marked the location for my bottom plate. The finished floor is parquet, and below that is concrete. There are a number of ways to attach walls to concrete floors. I used Liquid Nails and cut masonry nails. Those incredibly strong nails can drive straight into concrete. Of course, the top plates for each of the two walls I built (since I built the closet in a corner, I used two existing walls for the back and right side of the closet) went the entire width of the walls, but the bottom plate on the door wall needed much less lumber, since the door opening was over thirty-six inches.
Once the top and bottom plates were in place, I could begin erecting the studs. That was straight-forward. The ceiling in that room has a shallow pitch equal to the pitch of the roof at that part of the house, so I had to cut each stud carefully. Since I couldn’t build the wall laying flat on the floor, nails were not a practical choice. I selected a specialty screw called Spax that I found in the decking section. It has a special Torx drive that held the screw on the bit while driving it, and it is almost impossible to strip. I screwed all the studs into the plates with those Spax screws. Where my new walls intersected existing walls, I either screwed the studs into existing studs behind the drywall, or used toggle bolts again.
Framing for the door gets a bit technical. I bought a thirty-six inch door. The doors actual dimensions are somewhat smaller, and the finished opening needs to be just slightly larger. So, I had to carefully account for the extra space that the trim would take up, and that meant that the studs I erected needed to be thirty-seven and a half inches apart. I made a similar calculation for the height of the header. Incidentally, since these walls aren’t really bearing any of the weight of the roof, I didn’t worry about building a double top header on edge. I did install cripples above the header, though.
With the framing done, I carefully measured the dimensions of my walls, and cut the drywall to fit. Cutting drywall is messy, but not terribly difficult, particularly if you have a long straight edge. It screws into the studs easily with a power drill. I made the joints as tight as I could, especially at the one outside corner. It’s not possible to get that perfect, which is why they sell a corner strip that covers the joint, and gets covered in compound. Applying joint compound is exponentially easier than using traditional plaster. It stays moist and pliable for hours. That’s good and bad. Good because it allows you to correct any mistakes, bad because waiting overnight for it to dry slows down progress.
With the walls up and the joints taped and plastered, I began my trim work. Trim carpenters are the best carpenters. The work they do is highly visible, so it must be precise. Of course, one is almost never lucky enough to be working in areas that are perfectly square, and there are always small obstacles along the way, and those make trim carpentry harder. In this case, I was lucky to be dealing with relatively simple cuts and angles. I had removed the baseboards in that corner of the room before I began erecting the walls, so I had some material I could trim a little and put right back where it was. On the right front side of the closet, though, I had cut the existing baseboard in place, without removing it. I cut it in such a way that I would be able to but another piece of baseboard against it at a ninety-degree angle, and my calculations were perfect. But to put the new shoe mould in, I couldn’t just miter it like all the other pieces. I’d have to cope it. I did, and it fit perfectly.
Trimming a door is always a pain, because everything has to be perfect or the door will either not function, or will, at least, look bad. I took very careful measurements, cut my pieces, and dry fit them in place. I only needed to shim the jamb in one small place, so that pleased me. Shims are the most useful, cheapest thing in the world. The casing was straightforward. I used a simpler casing on the inside of the closet (where nobody will ever see it) than I did on the outside. I set all my nails, filled the holes, and caulked the edges of the baseboards and door casing. I painted the walls and trim to match the existing colors.
The last component was, perhaps, the most important: a rod system for hanging clothes. We had browsed the various modular systems, such as Closetmaid, but were not impressed. While they are highly configurable, they can get expensive, and, since all Miriam really needs to do with her closet is hang clothes on hangers, she really just needed some rods. I decided to make a two-tiered set up, with one rod high, and another lower, to make the best use of the space. Some website somewhere probably explains exactly where to place rods when building a closet, but I didn’t bother looking; I just took a couple a couple blouses and dresses on hangers, and held them up in the space, and marked for my rods that way, remembering that I couldn’t place the top rod too high for Miriam to reach.
I first cut four equal lengths of 1×4 from a longer piece, then marked out their positions on the closet wall, using a line level to make sure they were all placed correctly. I used my wonderful Spax screws and screwed the 1×4 pieces through the drywall, into the studs, which I had marked ahead of time. On the already existing right wall, a stud was situated ideally about twelve inches from the back wall, but there seemed to be no stud at the back right corner, so I had to use toggle bolts at the back. On the left wall, which I erected, I knew that I had a stud twelve inches out from the wall (again, the perfect position for placing a flange for a closet rod), and I knew that I had a stud butted up against the existing back wall, too, so I could drive my Spax screws into studs at the front and back of the 1×4 strips into which I would screw the flanges for the rods. Of course, I could have just screwed my flanges by themselves directly into the studs, but by installing them into pieces of 1×4, I made convenient supports for shelves. For rods I used one and a quarter inch poplar dowels. They were a few cents more than steel conduit, but much easier to cut, and somewhat less industrial-looking.